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A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway
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In A Farewell to Arms, does Lieutenant Henry really love Catherine?

In Farewell to Arms, Lieutenant Henry really loves Catherine.

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In Ernest Hemingway ’s novel, Frederic Henry’s developing ability to love Catherine in particular—and any woman in general—is part of his maturing process. Frederic’s move away from reckless participation in the war initially helps move him toward the ability to develop an adult relationship. Although his injury plays a role...

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In Ernest Hemingway’s novel, Frederic Henry’s developing ability to love Catherine in particular—and any woman in general—is part of his maturing process. Frederic’s move away from reckless participation in the war initially helps move him toward the ability to develop an adult relationship. Although his injury plays a role in his decision to leave the fighting—the first phase of his “farewell to arms”—it also coincides with Catherine’s decision to come and care for him. Frederic begins to understand that women have courage and strength and are worthy of being treated honestly.

In the past, Frederic understood his egotistic, self-centered attitude as protecting him from entanglements. He did not believe that men could require the depth of emotional involvement that he associated with women. As he recovers from his injury, however, Frederic begins to have a fuller sense of his deeper needs. He is able to set aside his superficial desire to play with other people’s emotions, as he had done in seeing his sexual conquests as mere games. All these different women are the second kind of “arms” to which he bids farewell. For Catherine and Frederic, being thrown together in a grave situation in which people were constantly dying was an impetus toward realizing the value of each life and appreciating the rarity in finding something deep and lasting amidst the chaos.

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Before he is wounded, Frederick is indecisive about Catherine and is primarily interested in her due to his attraction to and lust for her. He admits early in the novel to not loving Catherine truly, acknowledging to the reader that he's told women before that he loved them but that it was always because of lust—never the heart-felt, kindred-spirits kind of love that others describe to him.

However, while called up to the front with the ambulance brigade, Frederick is wounded in an enemy artillery strike and is rushed to a hospital, where he is cooped up for weeks and has time to reflect. He ponders the war and what his life might be if not for it, and he fantasizes about having a life with Catherine. Upon Catherine's transfer to the hospital to be near him, Frederick is overcome and experiences a moment of epiphany: he realizes that he does love Catherine, or does in that moment. It is then that Catherine and Frederick take up a passionate and steady romance in a string of late-night trysts that are always in the dark.

While at first he is ambivalent, Frederick does come to love Catherine intensely and, as another Educator noted, turns out the light before saying goodbye, a nod to the nights spent together in the darkness of the hospital where their love was first truly realized.

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In the beginning, he does not. He sees her only as a sex object and their relationship as game playing. Frederick says, "I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards."

This attitude changes drastically after Frederick is wounded and reunited with Catherine away from the war. Lonely, hurt, and afraid, he falls deeply in love with her. Their relationship develops throughout the novel, becoming even more tender after Catherine becomes pregnant. Their rowing across a lake in the rain when Frederick deserts is perhaps the most romantic passage in Hemingway's work.

Frederick's love for Catherine cannot be doubted as she dies after giving birth to their stillborn son. Frederick agonizes. He prays. He stays with Catherine until the end. After she dies, he clears her hospital room, turns out the light, and says good-by to her in the darkness. By the end of Hemingway's novel, there is no doubt he loved her profoundly.

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